Saturday, July 22, 2017

(Em)Powering Up my Students

A little background, coming out of college and moving to Roanoke, I got really deep into a collectible card game called Marvel VS System. It was an especially nerdy time in my life. Yeah, let that one sink in for a second. I really enjoyed all aspects of it. Collecting, building decks, and especially getting together with people to play. So when I read about the item concept in Explore Like a Pirate, my mind was immediately drawn to it. It is becoming a bit of an obsession.


I dabbled in power ups/items last year just try my hand at it. My kids liked them. They liked having them. They liked when they were random drops during class. They liked earning them by doing things. The items added to the game, which added to class. Having the items also meant that I was not bribing the students with candy and other stuff. They earned items that pointed them back toward the class. However, there was more to it than that. It gave them power to impact the class. Empowerment has a huge impact on students investment in a classroom. If students can impact little things that matter to them, they will care more about what happens in class.


That brings us to this summer, and I am all in. My awesome new partner Tom and I are incorporating a superhero theme for our science classes, which I will pull into my math class in a slightly different way thanks to an excellent idea from Justin Willetts, @jwilletts12 on Twitter. A big component of that will be our collectible Power Up cards. Students will all be getting a baseball card sleeve to keep an inventory of 9 cards. They can hang on to the cards, trade for ones that suit their personality, or use them in different class situations.


Currently, I am using the website GoDeckYourself.com, which allows for the creation of your own cards. It has templates that are easy to use and offer different choices. Personally, though, I have some design philosophies that I hold to.
  • One, there have to be cards that appeal to all types of learners. Cards that will affect my explorers, socializers, achievers, and a term I have borrowed to call my griefers, philanthropist.
  • Two, and this is important to me as the father of a girl, my cards must feature female superheroes as well. This can be tricky, as comic book art is not extremely tactful all the time.
  • Last, there have to be commons, rares, and unicorns. Cards that many of the students have, cards that not every student will have, and cards that only a few will get the entire year. Those unicorns, man, they have to be special.

Here is a taste of what my fourth graders are in for.
Common Sample #1
Whoops, as labeled, is geared toward my explorers. Kids who are excited to learn...constantly, and because of that may forget to bring something to school.

Common Sample #2
Partners is a card aimed at my socializes, like me. Kids who want to share all of their thoughts, but might benefit from having a sounding board.

Rare Sample #1
Look! Up in the Sky! is a rare. About 1 in 5 cards will be a rare card because the effect will be very cool. Look! gives the students an opportunity to get involved with sharing cool things taking place in our classroom.

Rare Sample #2
Shine the Signal is for the kid who can not contain the desire to share that they know something. This card is an outlet for that kid, it gives them the opportunity to take over for a short time and be the center of attention. That said, giving them a number of uses forces them to choose wisely.

These are just some of my 12 rares and 16 common cards. I am not ready to share unicorn cards, they will be given in very special circumstances. I am also planning to introduce Villain cards or Schemes in the second half of the year, but those are only in the brainstorming stage. If you want to see the rest of the set, let me know on Twitter, I would be happy to share. 



Monday, June 12, 2017

Keep the Fire Burning

I have a peace, y’all.

This school year was outstanding. My students made some amazing extra curricular projects. We had fun and relivant lessons. My classroom dipped it’s toes into gamificiation and it rocked. My peers nominated me as teacher of the year for our school. I found a powerful weekly professional learning network on twitter (#XPLAP Tuesday nights at 10pm eastern).  I also got to try my hand at speaking at conferences, which was unforgettable.


So...how do you top it?

Well, that is where the peace comes in. You see, right now I am standing at the edge of uncertainty. My home is on sale, my wife and I have resigned, and some time in the next two months we will move ourselves to Ohio. After 12 years of becoming who we are; growing, learning, and meeting a lot of great people, it is time to go home. For all that is yet to be revealed, there is one thing I know. I can not stop now.

I have a job with the Forest Hills School District in Cincinnati and I can not give up on the momentum. I have aspirations of a fully gamified science class built on students being given a classification based on what kind of gamer that they are. I get one group of math, and you can bet it is going to be one piratey group. I want to go all, or mostly google classroom. I am already brainstorming a couple of project ideas based on the work of Kevin Honeycutt (If you are an educator and you don’t know him, look him up). I am hoping to get back into being involved with the Extra Life charity and having another evening of gaming for children’s cancer research. I have every intention to collaborate both in and outside of my building. I am going to seek out opportunities to speak, and remain a regular with my weekly twitter chat folks. The fire is burning and I don’t want to stop.


Personally, I get see my Mom and Dad. My kids get both sets of grandparents. My wife and I get a little bit of a reset. For the things I don’t know, there is a lot that I do. For this reason, I have a peace, y’all.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Day Before Spring Break: Experimentation Day

The week before spring break can be tough. Kids are ready and excited, which finds them not making the best choices. There is a lot to wrap up and square away, because as soon as we get back, it is business time. The countdown to standardized testing will be on. This year, we finished a unit on Thursday, so we had a Friday to relax a bit. I love days like this. I call them experimentation days. I get to try some crazy idea with my students. 

For this experiment, we played a review game that I have been toying with for a while called Tumbling Towers. Like all good games there is story to set it up.

"You are a member of an island tribe. Your people are constantly warring with the surrounding islands to prove who is the best. Now to demonstrate your superiority, you have begun construction of a tower to give other islands no choice but to look up to you . However, as you begin to build, you notice the other islands have the same idea. You will not stand for this! Luckily, these islands also have an endless supply of boulders. When the time is right, you will unleash them on your unsuspecting neighbors. Get ready to watch the Tumbling Towers!"

The main rules of the game
  • Your group works out a problem on the board and come to a consensus. (We played with white boards.)
  • If your team is correct, you roll a RED and GREEN dice. The Green is the number of one inch wooden cubes your team gets to use to build a tower. The Red is the number of stripes of paper your team gets to build boulders to throw at other island's towers. All strips of paper could be used individually or wrapped together to make larger boulders. (I used recycled paper in fourths.)
  • Teams have to use the blocks to build the towers inside of a square of tape on their tables. (Pictured below) 
  • If the tower falls, students may reuse any block that does not fall outside the tape.  Fallen blocks outside the tape are lost.
  • The goal is to build the tallest tower of all without having it knocked down by other teams boulders.
Bumping rules
  • If you bump your own table and your tower falls, all rules apply. So be careful.
  • If you bump someone else's table. They get to rebuild and you will be removed from the activity. Sabotage will not be tolerated. You may not leave your island.
  All power ups were usable. I even offered a set this week that worked well for the game.


For the game I set up our tables like so.


This added a nice feel to the class. It increased the island theme and the students knew something was up the second they walked in the door. To throw boulders, students had to stand at the end of the table. This added an element of strategy. The easy shot was the table next to you, but you have to beware revenge. It also added excitement for the team brave enough to take a shot all the way across the void. 


The game was immediately understandable to my students and was a huge hit. They had a blast strategizing their moves, deciding how big to make their boulders, and when to build up or expand the base. Depending on the class, we got 8 to 10 questions in during the game, this including modeling and corrections if students forgot an older topic. Work was not rushed because correct answers mattered. These experimental days can sometimes be things that I never return to. Tumbling Towers will be back, and likely sooner than later.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Turn Based Strategy X Probability

So, I went for it. I pulled my favorite style of game into my class. I actually turned my class into a turn based strategy game, and it worked...on the second try.


A little over a week ago I was partaking in the #XPLAP chat on Twitter, which if you don’t participate in something educationally on twitter and you teach, you totally need to. During the chat, the idea of using an hourglass came up, which lead some back and forth that looked something like this…
You should totally follow both of these guys by the way. Great educational minds.


The gist of the conversation was that the room is the battle field for a strategy game. As we are studying probability I thought it would be a good opportunity to give this a try. As I am currently playing a lot of Fire Emblem Heroes, Nintendo’s turn based strategy mobile game, I drew some of my inspiration from that.


I wanted to make sure we had a play area with a grid. I used rubber bases from the gym class. Color coding would have been awesome, but in order to get a 5 by 7 play area I took every rubber base that they had. Another thing I thought would add something was classes with different movements, abilities, and weapons. Though, I narrowed it down to movements and abilities as assigning weapons limits the mathematical possibilities. Giving them one weapon and they would be repeating the same formula over and over. Instead, the probability to be worked out was assigned to their place on the play area.

My grid based floor and the lettered version of it on the board.

Spectators, those not playing, would complete the math for a given player involved in the match. This would hopefully maintain engagement as I had no idea how long it would take. I even created a ‘Tactician's Log’ for them to keep up with.

During the game students were allowed to take 1, 2, or 3 steps on their turn. Then depending on the space they were standing on, they would be given a situation in order to attempt to eliminate another player. They would use dice, spinners, a set of 10 cards, or a bag with foam squares in it. Each space had it’s own circumstance, some more probable than others. Those situations were the ones the spectators would have to work out.


As I said, the first block to try it didn’t go so hot. I put too much on them and I realized it. They seemed to get it, but asking them to follow different players meant I had to make sure different groups were doing different things all while half the class waited. Too many balls in the air. Once that class left, I gave a few seconds of thought to throwing in the towel on the concept altogether, but I knew it could work. I just needed to streamline a bit.

Students had to roll two dice, spin two spinners, select two cards, or pull two squares from a bag in order to eliminate other players.


During lunch, I changed two things and it made all the difference. I had kids not playing focus on one player per turn, which increased their engagement. It allowed more students to see what I was going for in my essential question; how can we use probability to help inform decision making? I also sped up turns by having the other members of the team complete their actions while non players worked out their math. I am so glad I didn’t give up on it.


A big thank you goes out to Mr. Taylor (@TeacherRunner42 on Twitter) for being a sounding board on the lesson. I hope it is the beginning of more to come.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Take them to the dungeon!

When I first started reading the book about Gamification, it happened to coincide with me correcting one of my larger oversights as a Nintendo fan: I finally played the Legend of Zelda Majora's Mask. One thing that I set out to do was create a dungeon. Not a "Take them to the dungeon!" prison style dungeon. In video games, like the Legend of Zelda, a dungeon is a place that you go to find new objects, solve puzzles, battle ugly monsters, and ultimately build up your character.

In Quest for the Shards of Light, my students would be visiting the Jungle Temple of Kip Cel Flahn. The name is ridiculous, but we are studying the Keep Change Flip strategy of dividing fractions, so K, C, and F had to be there. My original goal was to present this as a performance task, but in mapping out the unit, I had a two day opening. It was a perfect fit and it would be so much better than a standard practice in the form of worksheets. 


The dungeon activity started with a take on the collapsing floor trope of adventure films, like Indiana Jones. They had to solve division problems with fractions. If the quotient was greater than 5 then it was safe to step there. The groups had to work together to find the safest path to cross the room. 

For the second area, I knew that I wanted to include one branching path to give the students some choice. I went very basic with a hard room or a basic room. If they choose the basic room the work would be pretty standard and more what they were used to. If they choose the hard room however, I told them it would really push them. However the reward would be greater if they took that route. This area had two parts, a review of ordering fractions, decimals, and percents followed by three division problems with mixed numbers which they would solve and then put the answers in ascending order. The harder versions required the students to convert the fractions all the way to the third of fourth place in decimal form. 

The final area was six problems that would indicate which letters to use in a word. My original thought was to jumble the letters. However, this time, I decided to be a bit nicer since it was our first try. I choose the classic line from the Lord of the Rings, "Not all who wander are lost." The letters and answers would correspond to the word wander. This would turn around to bite me a bit, but I will get into that next time.


In preparing the activity, I did two rather enjoyable things. First, I added an element of story to the activity. As students went from one challenge to the next, there was a narrative to their journey. This was fun to write and really made me feel like this was something special. The other aspect I added was pictures like the ones above.  The pictures are intended to give this, and future dungeons, a flavor of their own. 

With the activity set, I made the copies and prepared for what I hoped would be something really great...but to hear about that you will have to wait until next time.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

That would be so cool

In games there are few things cooler than getting something new. In video games like new guns in Ratchet and Clank or new items in Animal Crossing. In board games you can buy extra abilities in King of Tokyo or resource cards in Settlers of Catan. These things keep the game exciting and change the way that you play.

A few weeks in and there are now two items in our classroom game. The bronze sword and the goblet of champions. The sword I classified as a weapon. All weapons can be used during battle games. They will give your team points in the game and/or effect other teams. For example, the bronze sword is worth 50 points and the user can choose a team that has to skip a turn.

The goblet is an item. Items are for use in other areas of our game. They can increase the XP students receive, who is showing work on the board, and even the questions being asked in class. The goblet of champions allows students to increase the XP they receive for an activity by 10%. This will come in handy during activities like dungeons and boss battles that reward students with higher experience points at the end.

Because of our busy schedule and snow days we have only been in our game for about a week. We played our first battle game two weeks ago. During the game a student looked at me and said, “Mr. Renard, can I use my sword now?” I told him sure. “It’s in my locker, can I go grab it?”

“Nope. You have to have it.” This was a good teaching moment. I explained to the students that if he had brought the sword to class that would have changed the whole game. Several students made comments about how cool that would have been. They were right. Items create moments, and there are plenty to come.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Battle Game #1: Envelopes

What is a Battle Game? Well, in short, it is me taking a worksheet and applying that practice to a game that we play in class allowing students to reap rewards towards Quest for the Shards of Light while practicing our current skills. For our first game, we played variation of a game I had seen several places before. In this game, the students complete a problem on the board. I watch as they work quietly until everyone at their table is in agreement, then they raise their hands. I mark down their order before I check answers, this way I don't miss who was next. Then I check their work to be sure each member of the group has worked it out to the correct answer. Beforehand, I tell them that if their clan is incorrect they will drop to the back of the pack, while they fix the problem.

Once the answers have been verified, we move over to a table containing 5 to 7 envelopes. I explain that in the envelopes there is one 50 point card. The cards to its right or left decrease by the same amount, so let's say they are 40, then 30's, then 20's and so on as needed (see the picture below). The clan that finished first picks first. They open the envelope and we record their score. From here there are two ways to play. One, they can leave their score card to share what they have then you can allow other groups to attempt to use those clues to solve the puzzle. The other way you can play is to let students leave a sticky note with either a truth or fib written on it. They can choose to help the next team, or not.


After five to eight rounds the totals are tallied for the last time and students reap their rewards. For this game, I gave the top three a training badge and some extra Class XP. The winning team also received our first special item; The Goblet of Champions. This closing reward is something that I am going to be playing around with as we go.

The experience was really fun across all of my classes. There were memorable comments, great teamwork, and a lot of agonizing over which envelope to pick. The last aspect that my students won't find out about until Monday is that I will be posting classroom world records for each of our battle games. That way, when I need to recycle a game to use there is an added incentive to be excited about.